Mr. Selden’s Map of China: Decoding the Secrets of a Vanished Cartographer

Timothy Brook. Bloomsbury, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-1-62040-143-9
Historian Brook (Vermeer’s Hat) offers the definitive study of the singular Selden Map, an archived and forgotten enigma thought to be from the Ming era. Unexplored prior to this book, the Chinese map is named for 17th-century historian John Selden, who, though unable to decipher its characters, donated the map to Oxford out of his “passion to ensure the survival of knowledge.” Brook continues this tradition of scholarly passion with a methodical analysis, exploring the map’s anachronisms, its stunning accuracy for the time, and its emphasis on sea routes. These features are explained through histories of the complex trade relationship between East and West in the 17th century. Ironically, the map was of little practical function; it passed quickly from use and into storage, and was made redundant by improved maps that were created only a few decades later—making its accuracy “now purely of historical interest.” While Brook finds the Selden Map to be the key to a wide range of historic insights, the cascade of names, dates, linguistic analysis, and maritime policy may be daunting for the casual reader. The scholar, however, will appreciate the level of detail, breadth of analysis, and ingenuity in Brook’s ability to expound such a wealth of history from a single document. Agent: Beverley Slopen, Beverley Slopen Agency. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/19/2013
Release date: 10/22/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 211 pages - 978-1-77089-353-5
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